This #gaanguide is a special edition, dedicated to exploring the beauty and adventure of The Bahamas.
If you’ve followed the news, you’re likely aware that parts of The Bahamas experienced immeasurable damage and loss as a result of Hurricane Dorian in early September. The islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, home to thousands of civilians, were destroyed and many residents have lost their homes. These islands are currently closed for travelers while governments, relief workers and volunteers from across the world work to help those still there, and assess what remains for all those that have been displaced.
We decided to take action, and since September, for every gaan + co product purchased, we’re donating wipes to those on the ground in Abaco & Grand Bahama who have minimal access to basic necessities.
While Abaco and Grand Bahama are currently closed to tourists, the region heavily depends on travelers to sustain the local economy. 60% of The Bahamas' $9 billion economy relies on the tourism industry, according to CNN, and in 2018 that came from a record-breaking 6.6 million visitors. Most fortunately, you can still head to the Caribbean and explore The Bahamas’ stunning array of 700 islands and cays, comprised of stunning beaches, natural wonders, good-natured people rich in culture, and plentiful adventures. We’ve put together our recommendations for a great mix of relaxing, active and of course, unconventional activities (and we never skimp on the food) across some of our favorite Bahamian islands.
So grab your gaan + co wipes and your sunscreen. We’re headed to The Bahamas!
With so many options of places to explore and things to do in The Bahamas (sandwiched between the local conch salads and fried plantain chips, of course), we’re going to focus our #gaanguide on what are commonly referred to as the “Out Islands” that extend along 760 miles from the coast of Florida nearly all the way to Haiti.
The Out Islands tend to appeal to travelers who are seeking authentic experiences and a real taste of island living. More secluded and less populated than Nassau or some of the larger islands, the Out Islands are home to some of the best beaches, snorkeling and diving, fishing, kayaking, boating and sailing, bird-watching and ecotravel in the world. Lodging tends to be smaller, or family-owned, and the pace is a bit slower (we are on “island time”, after all!), giving you more time to soak in your surroundings. The Out Islands on our list are all a short (45 minutes or less) flight from Nassau and tickets tend to be between $60-$90 depending on the time of year. A small price to pay for an unforgettable adventure in The Bahamas.
Let’s island hop!
Our first Outer Island recommendation is the longest island in The Bahamas, home to acres of pineapple fields, historic villages and a jaw-dropping pink-sand beach that runs along the entire 110-mile coastline. Welcome to Eleuthera! If you’re looking for a place to stay that’s an adventure in itself, check out The Other Side. This completely solar-powered “glamping” site is situated on a private secluded beach and is comprised of private sleeping tents, and four communal tents for reading, playing, drinking and eating (hello on-site salad garden where the veggies and fruits are bountiful). Think part camping, part hotel amenities. Upscale tents are outfitted with comfortable furnishings and an unmistakable Bahamian flare. Poolside yoga happens every morning at sunrise and there’s a private 30-foot charter boat that will take you just about anywhere. As with most islands in The Bahamas, a lot of the activities are spent on the water. While on Eleuthera, you can choose from any variety of water adventure including paddle boarding, surfing, snorkeling & scuba. Fishbone Tours is super reputable on the island and can help set up snorkeling tours and fishing trips, from deep-sea to reef fishing. They also run a Sea Turtle rescue program that’s worth seeing. Many come to Eleuthera to explore the world-renowned Sapphire Blue Hole or the Glass Window Bridge where you can see the Atlantic Ocean on one side of the road and the Bight of Eleuthera (often incorrectly identified as the Caribbean Sea) on the other side, separated by a strip of rock just 30 feet wide. It’s straight out of a postcard and a great example of Mother Nature with her finest work. For another unforgettable day of exploring, check out some of Eleuthera’s many hidden caves with further hidden grottos and swimming holes. There are MANY caves (check out a complete list here), but Hatchet Bay Cave, Smugglers Cave (not for those who get claustrophobic easily – you have to wiggle through one person at a time!), Rum Bottle Cave, and Spider Cave are worth putting on your list. Make sure you have a waterproof phone case – you’ll definitely want to capture these memories and magical scenery. At any point – day or night, make sure to relax along the pink sand beaches and enjoy the calm crystal clear water. If you want some time away from the beaches, there are several hiking trails lined with beautiful waterfalls in the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve.
When you’re hungry on Eleuthera, you can’t go wrong with any number of beachside fish shacks where everything is caught fresh from the archipelago. We love The Shipyard in the Spanish Wells district of the island. Make a midday pit stop for the smoked fish dip and a “Sky Juice” as the locals refer to it (fresh coconut water, gin, and condensed milk topped with nutmeg or cinnamon), or indulge for a sunset dinner with a conch salad made tableside and fresh-caught stone crabs. The view is unbeatable and the staff is warm and welcoming. Some other great spots on the island are Budda’s Snack Shack (do not miss the conch fritters and Kalik local beer) and Da Perk in Governor’s Harbor serves a hearty Bahamian breakfast with hot sauce made in-house, and slow drip coffee that will thoroughly caffeinated you for the day ahead.
Long Island is a narrow 80-mile long slice of heaven in the southern Bahamas lying directly between Rum Cay and Great Exuma. It’s a very small community, so after just a few days, you’ll be on a first-name basis with the owner of the shell craft store and his daughter-in-law who runs the local produce stand. Long Island is unique with the Atlantic Ocean bordering the eastern shore (think big limestone cliffs and waves for surfing), while the western shore is lined with tranquil beaches of white sand and calm, clear waters. Equally stunning, with totally different vibes! There are plenty of small bed & breakfast-style accommodations on Long Island, as well as a fair share of Airbnbs. We love the authenticity and relaxing island feels of the Stella Maris, a hotel that’s been around for decades. You’ll have views of the eastern shoreline from every room, and if you’re traveling with a larger group, they have 4-5 bedroom homes on the property each with their own pool overlooking the ocean. The hotel has a private marina, and several waterfront restaurants and bars. You can walk out your door and decide on sea kayaking, snorkeling, or even a shark dive – no reservations required. Those looking for a thrill shouldn’t miss Dean's Blue Hole, the 663-foot-deep swimming hole off Long Island that is the second deepest on the planet. Don’t worry, it’s totally safe and you’ll access it with an expert.
There are small restaurants up and down the island that will satisfy your hunger for great island fare. Max’s Conch Bar has a reputation for some of the best Conch salad in the entire Caribbean, and everything is made by Max’s son Gary, who grew up on the island (make sure to say hi – he’s there every day!). If you’re up for it, ask for the Conch salad on the spicy side with locally grown peppers from the garden around back. As a seafood alternative, Max will serve up some off-menu fried chicken upon request using his grandma’s recipe. We also love Tiny’s Hurricane Hole for their beach bar where you can grab a pulled pork sandwich with locally made pickles and a Dark & Stormy made with rum barreled just up the road. There’s no bad view on Long Island, so make to maximize your evening meal times by timing them for sunset.
While Andros is the largest island in The Bahamas, it’s still considered an “Outer Island” as it’s far less developed and an ideal destination for those looking for minimal crowds and natural marine habitats. If you’re in the mood for deluxe accommodations, Kamalame Cay is a village resort that leaves us booking a one-way trip immediately. We rarely do this, but really, just check out their website. The pictures alone are enough to convince us to start saving. The villas are great for groups and come with full kitchens for those wanting to try their hand at cooking with local ingredients. Small Hope Bay Lodge is another long-standing, more affordable place to stay on Andros, and you’ll experience the island oasis with your own beachfront cabin. Andros boasts a huge barrier reef, which is 190 miles long and travels more than 6,000 feet below sea level into the depths of the ocean. Coral lines the reef and there are huge schools of fish in every color of the rainbow. It’s truly a scuba diver’s paradise. And speaking of fish, Andros is also known as the best location for bone-fishing in the world. You should definitely head to any of the docks on the island and watch the skilled fisherman. Many of them are happy to let you pick a fish, and they’ll fillet and grill you up an ocean-side meal for a small price. Talk about a fresh catch!
If you want to see true masters of fishing practicing their trade, check out Flamingo Cay on the southern side of the island to see the expert fisherman at work alongside a protected wildlife conservatory that’s home to creatures of the land and sea, as well as (you guessed it) a large flock of flamingos. Andros is also home to 178 blue holes (sinkholes or underground caverns), which can be as deep as 1,000 feet and a rich royal blue color as a result of the reflection of the sun. Barb’s Nature Walk & Blue Hole Tour is a great way explore the blue holes, and in the two and a half hour tour, you’ll also see a bat cave and a forest of native trees that are indigenous to southern Andros and home to a variety of wildlife. History buffs will want to make a quick stop at the Andros Lighthouse. You can climb to the top of the tower built in 1892 and snap a pic with the cannons that remain out front. When you’re hungry on Andros, head to Brigadier's Restaurant, for breakfast, lunch or dinner any day of the week. This restaurant literally sits above the ocean and is run by island native Adrian D'Aguilar. Try the Mahi Mahi sandwich with a side of homemade mac & cheese or a loaded burger with grilled pineapple and Bahamian sugar cane BBQ sauce. You also won’t want to miss F&H Takeaway for a quick meal or two while on Andros. This tiny beachside hut is the one with a huge pile of conch shells outside and a line during the lunch and dinner hours. You’ll find locals hanging outside, and people eating at the picnic tables or on the sand close by. They have a pretty extensive menu and grill up fresh chicken, burgers and of course, Conch and serve with local citrus and salsa. The fries at F&H happen to be particularly delicious and they give you enough to feed a small (fishing) village.
You may have already heard of the Exumas – even if you haven’t, you’ve probably seen photos or videos of a rare activity that put the Exumas on the map for travelers and animal lovers around the world (we’ll get to that shortly). The Exumas are comprised of 365 Bahamian cays (pronounced “keys”) that are exotic and gorgeous, and closer in proximity to the United States than any other island in the Caribbean. You have plenty of places to stay while in the Exumas, and some people opt to live on a sailboat and explore a variety of Exuma’s cays during their stay. Dream Yacht Charters specializes in catamaran charters in the Exumas and the boats are well-maintained and comfortable. You’ll be assigned a local guide and captain who will help make sure your experience is as adventurous as your heart desires. For those who prefer to stay on land, we love Augusta Bay. This intimate 16-room beachfront boutique hotel is on one of the Exuma's prettiest coves in Georgetown on Great Exuma (which is a good spot to call home base if you plan to spend your days jumping from cay to cay). It’s comfortable and affordable, with stunning views and the friendliest hotel staff.
Alright, so back to that rare activity that’s infamous to the Exumas: swimming with pigs. Pig Beach on Major Cay is a secluded lagoon of turquoise water where a herd of friendly pigs spend their days paddling in the water and socializing with visitors. If you’re a wildlife lover, you can also see the endangered Bahamian Rock Iguanas at Bitter Guana Cay and go swimming with nurse sharks just off of Compass Cay. And if you’d rather steer clear of these maritime creatures, head to Big Farmer’s Cay and wade your way out to the most famous sandbar in The Bahamas. Big Farmer’s Cay Sandbar is an unbelievably striking stretch of soft white sand that reveals itself only at low tide. The so-called “Mile-long Sandbar” is an iconic photo spot and a great place to enjoy a picnic in the middle of the ocean. Another iconic landmark is Tropic of Cancer Beach. Officially named Pelican Beach, this is quite possibly the most jaw-dropping beach in all of the Exumas. Located just outside of Willams Town in Little Exumas, this cove-shaped retreat has received much recognition not only because of its beauty, but because of the Tropic of Cancer latitude line runs along the white sand.
If you’ve ever dreamt of having your own private island, take a quick boat ride to Fowl Cay, a 50-acre secluded spot in the center of the Exumas with a resort you can access for the day. Fowl Cay is quiet and ideal for boating, diving, jet-skiing, snorkeling or reading a good book. Or, if you’re looking for a water sport of a different variety, Kiteboarding is also growing in popularity and Fowl Cay is a perfect place to learn the sport because of the wind conditions and calm waters.
There’s no shortage of beachside dining options throughout the Exuma’s. Those looking for an authentic Bahamian dining experience should head to Fish Fry Shacks. Located in Georgetown on Great Exuma, this is where you eat if you’re a local. There are 12 colorful shacks standing side by side along the sea (hello photo op). People LOVE this place and there are reviews to prove. We love the Caribbean-caught lobster, fresh grouper, and house made potato salad and rice & peas. Santana’s is another great option in William’s Town. They serve slow-braised ribs – a famous menu item, accompanied by cornbread made at Mom’s Bakery located right next door. Add some sides of baked macaroni and fresh slaw, paired with a cold Kalik beer – and you have yourself a meal fit for Bahamian royalty!
There are so many more islands, cays and magical places to explore in the Bahamas – we’ve only just scratched the surface. If you’re looking for a tropical retreat in the future, we encourage you to consider traveling to The Bahamas. For additional ways to contribute outside of your extraordinary experience, please check out our recommended charities and more about our donation effort here.
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- Written by Rachel Levy